April 6, 2015
The single candle flickers on the table while the mosquito coil wards away and smokes under my feet. Marimbas, guitars, and friendly Latin tunes provide the backdrop to the cicada chorus singing around our patio. This is a scene not unfamiliar to me. It sounds and smells like every night did in Costa Rica when I taught there for a year. But today Guatemala was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
On our way to Santiago de Atitlan, we stopped in Antigua to see the ancient city and to partake in the Good Friday festivities. I knew I would love it. I just didn’t know how much it would move me.
Everyday people create art in the streets called alfombras – which literally means “rug” in Spanish. They use sawdust to make something like this:
Carefully sculpting each image, they move from one section to another, painstakingly caring for each detail. It is a gift of sacrifice in both time and cost. Though many do not have the means to buy such elaborate supplies, they find a way to purchase them to offer this gift of faith to their God.
We admired these stunning creations as we wove through venders dressed in bright textiles selling cut up mangoes and papaya.
Antigua has strict building codes. No one who lives in the city can build higher or change the roof lines. They can paint and improve the interior, but that’s all. For this reason, Antigua looks very much like it did hundreds of years ago. The streets are made of cobblestone and the stucco walls that line the ancient streets stow away houses, shops, restaurants, and hotels.
As we dined on traditional dishes, jacon and pepian (both so flavorful and delicious), in the streets we heard a loud boom, boom, boom. It signaled the procession was about to pass the restaurant. We stepped outside to see the most moving Easter celebration I’ve ever witnessed.
Centurion soldiers marched in front, while men and boys in purple robes followed behind with incense and spears.
Behind them, a 1,000 lb. wood altar with Jesus on the top was being carried by a group of men. They carry it though the streets from one church to another. Sweat drips off of their faces, and the heavy burden rocks back and forth as they struggle to make their way.
In this act they are identifying with the Christ- both literally and figuratively. Many closed their eyes and leaned their heads against the wood, praying for the strength to withstand. To them, it is an identification with Jesus, carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion.
My eyes filled with tears as I watched the procession pass by us, trampling over the cherished alfombras. It was so beautiful. The ritual contained such depth of heart and story.
It shouted that without sacrifice, there is no blessing. As Christians, it is part of our life’s call to be inconvenienced. To serve. To remember.
Without warning, another boom, boom, boom of the drum began. We wondered if another group of men would come out of the church. But this time, it wasn’t men. It was women, carrying the altar with Mary above.
It is their way of honoring the loss and sacrifice of the mother of Jesus.
Rituals matter. As we make our way through life, may we remember to stop. To take the time. Because in it we will find depth of heart.